A patient and public involvement campaigner has applied for a senior NHS Commissioning Board role, partially in protest at tokenistic participation “rituals”.
Ruth Marsden, vice chair of the National Association of Local Involvement Networks Members, told HSJ her decision to apply for the national director of patient insight role was partially driven by disappointment at the Health Act’s failure to empower patients.
She said: “We are fed up of token public involvement and sick of seeing our health budget gobbled up by bureaucracy, while patients are denied healthcare. We are people, not ‘units of data’ to be ‘managed’. It’s time to junk the rhetoric, stop talking about ‘culture change’ and start doing it.”
Ms Marsden said there was “a strong element of protest” in her decision to apply, but she was also hoping to “make sure there is a true patient champion in the role”.
Cabinet Office director for transparency and open data Tim Kelsey, the co-founder of Dr Foster Intelligence, and NHS Midlands and East director of strategy Stephen Dunn have also been linked with the £165,000 job.
The job description for the non-voting board level position says its focus will be to “develop and deliver national strategies on public and patient engagement, intelligence and informatics”.
The successful candidate will also be the lead on IT for the board and oversee a directorate that will drive the use of “sophisticated patient feedback and behavioural data” and pioneer “the implementation of innovative data capture techniques”.
However, when the job description was published last month patients’ charity National Voices warned the informatics focus could prevent the board from finding a “true patient champion”.
Ms Marsden, who was shortlisted for a lay role on the National Quality Board a few years ago, said she shared National Voices’ concerns and accepted that informatics experience was a “weakness” in her application.
“[Data collection] is perfectly valid but what’s new? We have been doing that since the NHS began, it’s just shuffling information around the system and that’s fine, there is a role for that, but don’t do that under the banner of national director for patient insight.”
Ms Marsden said she felt the role on the commissioning board, which will be responsible for a budget of more than £100bn, was likely to be more influential than the chair of HealthWatch England which has been described by health secretary Andrew Lansley as the new consumer champion for patients. The appointment process for a chair was due to begin in January but has still not started.
In her “manifesto” for the role, launched this morning, the former engineering lecturer pledged to “challenge empty rituals of participation” and press for shared decision making on allocation of NHS resources through “50:50” lay and professional membership on clinical commissioning groups.
She also promised to oppose the “tradition” of not involving the public until late in the planning process which she claims reduces the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on commissioning.